Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires


Regional Reviews by Zander Opper

Memphis
Downtown Cabaret Theatre

Also see Fred's review of An Opening in Time


John Stegmaier and Saige Bryan
Memphis is currently receiving an exhilarating new production at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT. This Joe DiPietro and David Bryan musical once again proves to be a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. I recently reviewed a sensational production of Memphis at the Ivoryton Playhouse, and I was slightly wary that my memory of the Ivoryton Playhouse production would get in the way of my ability to enjoy the show at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre. Happily, that didn't happen. If anything, seeing this musical again made me appreciate the piece even more. With razor-sharp direction by Christy McIntosh-Newsom, a wholly terrific cast, and a dynamite onstage band, this production sizzles from beginning to end.

Any production of Memphis will rise or fall on the casting of its two demanding lead roles. At the performance I was to attend, the Downtown Cabaret Theatre was faced with an unusual problem: John Stegmaier, cast in the lead role of Huey Calhoun, had lost his singing voice right before the performance. Director Christy McIntosh-Newsom made a statement before the show that Stegmaier would speak and act the part of Huey, but, during the songs, he would lip sync to the singing voice of an offstage actor. This solution worked brilliantly: John Stegmaier spoke and acted the role splendidly, with offstage actor Eric Regan lending his spectacular singing voice to Huey's musical numbers. I should note that the director mentioned that it is likely that John Stegmaier would be able to sing the role later in the run, after sufficient vocal rest.

Just about every other aspect of the production works like gangbusters. In the leading female role of Felicia, Saige Bryan is simply wonderful, with a phenomenal singing voice, especially in the showstopping numbers "Someday" and "Colored Woman." Likewise, there is fantastic singing and acting by the entire supporting cast. Standing out are the delightful Brian Crook as Bobby, a strong-voiced Garth West as Felicia's brother Delray, and Everton Ricketts as Gator, movingly singing the first act finale song, "Say a Prayer." Lauren Linn, whom I saw give an amusing performance as Mrs. Meers in Downtown Cabaret Theatre's recent production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, is even stronger and funnier here as Huey's sassy mother, Gladys.

Visually, this Memphis looks glorious, with striking lighting design by Phill Hill, gorgeous costumes by designer Jessica Camarero, and an impressive set, designed by Leif Smith. Director Christy McIntosh-Newsom works excellently with her designers, and there is also spirited choreography by Jessica Rahrig and a rocking band under the precise musical direction of Eli Newsom, playing David Bryan and Joe DiPietro's rousing score.

Even after seeing several first-rate productions of Memphis (including the original Broadway production), it still seems fresh and ebullient, with more than a few moments moving me to tears. The Downtown Cabaret Theatre puts on a dazzling show and once again proves that Memphis can raise the roof, as it certainly does in this production. Do whatever you can to get to the Downtown Cabaret Theatre to see Memphis for a truly smashing good time.

Memphis continues performances at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT through October 11, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.dtcab.com or call the box office at 203-576-1636.


Photo: Kevin McNair

- Zander Opper


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